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Concepts, abstractness and inner speech

Borghi, Anna M.; Fernyhough, Charles

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Anna M. Borghi


We explore the role of inner speech (covert self-directed talk) during the acquisition and use of concepts differing in abstractness. Following Vygotsky, inner speech results from the internalization of linguistically mediated interactions that regulate cognition and behaviour. When we acquire and process abstract concepts, uncertainties about word meaning might lead us to search actively for their meaning. Inner speech might play a role in this searching process and be differentially involved in concept learning compared with use of known concepts. Importantly, inner speech comes in different varieties—e.g. it can be expanded or condensed (with the latter involving syntactic and semantic forms of abbreviation). Do we use inner speech differently with concepts varying in abstractness? Which kinds of inner speech do we preferentially use with different kinds of abstract concepts (e.g. emotions versus numbers)? What other features of inner speech, such as dialogicality, might facilitate our use of concepts varying in abstractness (by allowing us to monitor the limits of our knowledge in simulated social exchanges, through a process we term inner social metacognition)? In tackling these questions, we address the possibility that different varieties of inner speech are flexibly used during the acquisition of concepts and their everyday use.


Borghi, A. M., & Fernyhough, C. (2023). Concepts, abstractness and inner speech. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 378(1870),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 23, 2022
Online Publication Date Jun 26, 2022
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date May 15, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 15, 2023
Journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Print ISSN 0962-8436
Electronic ISSN 1471-2970
Publisher The Royal Society
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 378
Issue 1870


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